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The Siege of Gondor, Part I: Professionals Talk Logistics (acoup.blog)
404 points by _Microft 60 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 166 comments

"Let’s be clear on this point: ancient and medieval warfare was mostly about sieges." I also learned years ago that when medieval battles actually happened, the goal was to rout the enemy, not actually fight them and kill each other.

I find these points illuminating because it reminds me that people back in the day were not primitive idiots. There was a very sensible logic to how they waged war. Ultimately, everyone back then wanted to live comfortable long lives like we do.

Mass killings of troops certainly happened: Hannibal's famous "Battle of Cannae" actually destroyed an entire Roman Legion (70,000 killed, 10,000 captured out of ~80,000 troops). They were just very rare.

Another point: After losing so many troops in a singular battle, the Romans changed their tactics. Instead of grouping their entire army as a massive 80,000-man strong Phalanx, they split up their armies into smaller groups, so that their eggs weren't all in one basket anymore.

Hannibal's trick to encircle and kill many roman troops in a single battle was never going to be repeated: the Romans learned of their mistake and made the necessary reforms to protect their troops.


The Battle of Cannae would go down in history as a military example of how to line up all your troops for potential slaughter. Future generals and tacticians would forever know of that battle and how to avoid those conditions.

Most generals and soldiers would seek a battle of annihilation: if destroying the entire enemy force is possible they will attempt it. The problem is, its very, very difficult to achieve in practice.

As such, simply routing the enemy, is sufficient for most military goals.


To be clear, the key word in the quote above is medieval. He specifically says large battles were far more common in the ancient world:

> Pitched battles were far more common in the ancient world (think Persia, Macedon, Rome, etc) – this is a product of the larger size and greater organizational capabilities of those armies.

That is actually wrong. For a battle to occur, both sides need to agree to battle, except in rare circumstances. So, usually what happens is, that the general in a weaker position avoids the other guy, until he finds terrain suitable to his advantage. The other guy then of course is a lot less inclined to attack in for him unfavorable terrain. Compare that with a siege, the attacker knows where he needs to go, and what he wants to do, and for the defenders their fortifications are a lot better than moving somewhere else. (It should be mentioned, some armies could force a battle. The Mongols for example where just so much more mobile, that they could actually catch an enemy who tries to evade them.)

Consequently also in antiquity, most engagements where sieges rather than set piece battles.

Isn't it kind of a useless distinction? I mean it's not like there are so many periods of pre-gunpowder history. We have ancient, medieval and that's it -you could add bronze age but we have so much less records-.

The whole "battles were rare, sieges where common" is a trope I believe some YouTubers started, but I don't think there's any solid pattern. Ancient armies pillaged the countryside to provoke encounters. Steppe peoples did pitched battles all the time because they didn't build walls. Medieval Europe may have had more sieges than battles because of religious homogeneity, but you can see how that model falls down soon in the thirty years war: if you don't engage the enemy they'll loot and pillage you to oblivion. Your people see how you are unable to protect them and desert you.

No, there is a very clear difference between warfare in the classical and medieval eras (in the West), and it dovetails with the collapse of large-scale political authority and the ability to muster large armies.

Another distinguishing factor is the widespread building of castles. During the classical era, fortifications were less useful because there were powerful states that could capture them anyway. But when even the nominal king or emperor had trouble mustering a force of fifty thousand men, the castle vs. the siege (and the raid) dominated most warfare. During the classical area many of those same places would have been sparsely populated, and certainly not well fortified.

Castles were less useful because you didn't need internal military structure to defend against the people from one province over. Roman cities for 100s of years didn't upgrade their city walls, even communities in Gaul stopped living in hill cities and so on.

Defensive structure really only made sense in specific border regions. There however large empires certainty did invest in such defenses. Border cities that were ready to be under siege and that could host an arriving army.

Think for example about the difference between pre-Hastings England and 100 years later. The castle sprawl was really dramatic after William took over, it really changed the dynamic

Minor correction:

A Legion numbered 3000-6000 combat troops around the time of Cannae. The Romans had mobilized additional forces for this battle, and this included an increase in the number of legions as well as the size of some. It is probably more accurate to say that about eight legions (Romans and allies) were destroyed.

Another noteworthy battle of annihilation is the Battle of Bach Dang River: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_B%E1%BA%A1ch_%C4%9...

Fun fact: the South East Asia was safe guarded from the Mongolian invasion because they was stopped 3 times at Vietnam. The Mongolian had heavy casualties from all 3 of the grand campaigns, despite overwhelming number and was forced to retreat.

On other hand Mongol-Song wars were absolutely incredible on power imbalance. Some times with a single tumen (10000) vs entire Song armies at a time.

The entire Song military of 1m+ and god knows how much irregulars first exhausted its supplies by chasing a more mobile enemy across the central plain, and then defeated with "defeat in details" taken to its extreme, after Song understood that they can't match Mongols in open fields, and decided to go on defensive.

As Mongols set on fire more and more cities, Song's giant military started emptying granaries as they retreated south. With each lost commandry, Song was loosing more and more of its grain production, while having to dig deeper, and deeper into its reserve.

During the second invasion wave, Mongols had to set just few more major granaries on fire for Song military's grain consumption to exceed its production. After that their supply shortage started to snowball, and they lost almost all of its military to rout and desertion within a few years.

This was similar to the earlier Battle of Bach Dang River over 300 years prior https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_B%E1%BA%A1ch_%C4%9...

Well, there was the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, where temporarily united germanic tribes managed to massacre around 20 000 roman legionnaires under the lead of a roman-trained traitor.

Turncoat perhaps, but traitor?

I think Hannibal's a special exception. I'm not sure which hannibal you are talking about, but they weren't they all engaged in a generations-long blood feud that lasted 300 years? I mean, this was not some simple faction conflict. It was a war between two rival states to decide the fate of the entire known world.

> weren't they all engaged in a generations-long blood feud that lasted 300 years?

I'm not sure how "exceptional" a multi-generational war was in medieval or ancient times.

There were Five Crusades between ~1100 and ~1300 for example. The Chinese Warring States period was 475 BCE to 221 BCE. Japanese Sengoku period (A similar "Warring states" era) was 1467 - 1600. The Hundred Years' War was 1337 to 1453.

There were times of peace, and then there were times of conflict. Sometimes conflicts that last centuries.

As a state vs state thing, Carthage and Rome definitely weren't unique in ancient times. Hell, Carthage wasn't even the last state that Rome engaged with in multi-generational war, they just came the closest to actually winning.

What is interesting about that particular war though is that it did span the literal generations of the Barca family, of which Hannibal was a member, and for whom at least two full generations that I know of all became leading generals in the Carthaginian army.

Rome is also somewhat unique in that they were basically in a state of perpetual war after a certain point in their history. War begat war, especially as the territory grew and the results of victory were wealth and prestige for the families involved.

> Hannibal's trick to encircle and kill many roman troops in a single battle was never going to be repeated

I would argue that the Romans allowed themselves to be surrounded in the Battle of Carrhae by forming into a block. They got pinned and were badly defeated.

> the goal was to rout the enemy

Had to google this one.

> A rout /raʊt/ is a panicked, disorderly and undisciplined retreat of troops from a battlefield, following a collapse in a given unit's command authority, unit cohesion and combat morale (esprit de corps).

Wikipedia has more https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rout

The general consensus about ancient and medieval battles is that the battle itself was not especially dangerous. Most casualties came when one side collapsed and routed---they would be pursued and slaughtered by the victors.

The book “On Killing” does mention this.

Killing seems to be a lot easier when done to a fleeing enemy. Something about running away makes one a juicy target.

S.L.A. Marshall was a fraud, and “On Killing” should be read with the knowledge it was written by a fraud.


Some veterans and historians have cast doubt on Marshall's research methods.[15] Professor Roger J. Spiller (Deputy Director of the Combat Studies Institute, US Army Command and General Staff College) argues in his 1988 article, "S. L. A. Marshall and the Ratio of Fire" (RUSI Journal, Winter 1988, pages 63–71), that Marshall had not actually conducted the research upon which he based his ratio-of-fire theory. "The 'systematic collection of data' appears to have been an invention."[16] This revelation has called into question the authenticity of some of Marshall's other books and has lent academic weight to doubts about his integrity that had been raised in military circles even decades earlier.[17]

In his 1989 memoir, About Face, David H. Hackworth described his initial elation at an assignment with a man he idolized, and how that elation turned to disillusion after seeing Marshall's character and methods firsthand. Hackworth described Marshall as a "voyeur warrior", for whom "the truth never got in the way of a good story", and went so far as to say, "Veterans of many of the actions he 'documented' in his books have complained bitterly over the years of his inaccuracy or blatant bias".[18][19]

> S.L.A. Marshall was a fraud, and “On Killing” should be read with the knowledge it was written by a fraud.

"On Killing" was not written by S.L.A. Marshall, but by Dave Grossman.

I know a few people have attempted to check this thesis by examining how many historical weapons we have are loaded, or reconstructing battles with laser beams. I'm still skeptical because it's so counterintuitive and old science never replicates, but I don't think "On Killing" has fallen apart yet.

Even if, and there is good evidence to believe so, Slam was a fraud, I don’t see the core tenants of On Killing to be falsified:

- Most humans naturally don’t want to kill

- Getting soldiers to do so causes them serious trauma

The psychological model put forth in On Killing matches the Milgram Experiments. The specific elements being proximity and relation to both the authority and the target.

Modern armies have adapted their training to account for the proposed human reluctance to kill a fellow human and seem to have lowered that threshold effectively.

Further, other historians have found more evidence to support the notion that most soldiers did not partake in killing. These include muskets containing multiple balls, or staging a battle against a band of cloth, finding much higher accuracy than when firing at a real enemy.

Then again, the author claims that violence in media is partly at fault for our current woes. A notion that I believe has been disproven.

I once heard an interview with a soldier in Vietnam, who said something like, "we grew up with the Lone Ranger and then were told to do things the good guys wouldn't do."

The relationship between media and violence may not be direct, but I suspect it's there.

Does the band of cloth shoot back?

Few people enjoy facing a prickly Alexandrian phalanx. You’d have to more than whip me to run at one.

To my knowledge, much was just shield bashing, posturing, and manoeuvring. It’s very hard to convince a group to close in on an enemy.

Problem is, that would make for a very dull film. Logistics, waiting, posturing, passively starving out a city. No speeches, no charging sword aloft.

The notion that we’re only marginally more intelligent than our ancient predecessors is quite a beautiful one I think.

If you read reports of how the Roman beat those armies, its pretty clear that their more dynamic troupes would actually directly engage the phalanx and break their lines.

That said, roman were the first in 100s years to achieve that, so its fair to say that most of the time you are right.

> "Let’s be clear on this point: ancient and medieval warfare was mostly about sieges." I also learned years ago that when medieval battles actually happened, the goal was to rout the enemy, not actually fight them and kill each other.

"Total War: Warhammer II" underlines both these statements.

You could have chosen one of the Total War games that didn't involved magic powers, OP hero units and mythical creatures, which makes a lesser example for the current discussion.

But I agree that the Total War games are a good example visual of where most of the casualties happens in pitched battles.

I haven't played the other Total War games, so I can't comment on them or use them as example.

People back then were just as smart as we are and tactics haven't changed a whole lot either, except where technology demands it. We just have much bigger toys to kill each other with.

Slightly OT:

I'm surprised that more sophisticated management of supply lines never seems to have caught on much in RTS games. The basic practice still seems to be that logistics are handwaved away and your units just spawn wherever you want (or where your factory is) provided you have enough money in the bank.

I could imagine a game quite fun where you actively have to transport troops and resources to the front and where building, running (using automation) and defending/attacking supply lines is integral part of the game. I guess the result would be something like a cross between Command & Conquer and Factorio or Transport Tycoon.

The handwaving of logistics can also lead to some surreal moments in RTS single-player campaigns when the hero characters somehow manage to bring huge armies with them wherever they go, even if the story establishes that a place is difficult to get to even as a small group.

Kudos for Blizzard and the design of the Zerg here, which turns that kind of awkwardness into an actual part of the story.

Sid Meier's Colonization has this, to a degree.

1. Gold can only be used to buy from European powers. You can't buy goods or units in America, you have to physically move them there with ships or wagon trains.

2. Civilians and combat units are the same. Any civilian can pick up a musket and become a soldier.

3. Defeated units don't die. They rout and are "demoted": a dragoon loses their horse and becomes a soldier, and a soldier loses their musket and becomes a civilian.

4. You can build roads and temporary colonies. Each colony has free storage space.

My favorite tactic was to build a siege camp near the enemy colony, connect it with my colonies with a road, then use it as a supply base. I'd just spam dragoon attacks for as long as I had spare horses.

I'm sure this wasn't the optimal strategy, but it worked on "easy". More importantly, Colonization seems to be the only game where this is at all possible.

One of my favourite games this. Dragoon skirmishing worked well because horses reproduce themselves but guns are expensive. It was also a game in which terrain was very important as it provided huge bonuses. Or, during the War of Independence, disadvantages for the government troops.

That sounds amazing. I never really got to play Colonization but I pored over it a lot in magazines.

These days it's pretty much abandonware, or $2 on Steam at the moment.

As a Civ i-iii player, I do not recognize the game you are talking about. edit: oops, reado

You could try your hand at board game that involves logistics, the infamously-complicated Campaign for North Africa: https://kotaku.com/the-notorious-board-game-that-takes-1500-...

"The Italian troops in World War II were outfitted with noodle rations, and in the name of historical dogma, the player responsible for the Italians is required to distribute an extra water ration to their forces, so that their pasta may be boiled."

The scale/scope of most of the RTS games is that of a battle, not that of a war.

I remember there was an old game, Napolean 1813, that has some level of supply management in the form of needing to build a chain of supply stations in different cities to support nearby troops. The map of that game stretches from Paris to Eastern Europe.

Another game that has supply management is Hearts of Iron, where the map is the entire world. I mostly play other Paradox grand strategy titles, but people have jokingly called Hearts of Iron the "Best supply chain similator game"

> The scale/scope of most of the RTS games is that of a battle, not that of a war.

Hmm, but even "Civilization" magically aways logistics for the most part. Units require "upkeep gold", but there's no real supply-chain that has to be built for units.


The "Rigs" in Advance Wars delivered oil to the frontlines. But its still simplified logistics, because "Rigs" had infinite oil in them. Still, it was a legitimate strategy to destroy enemy Rigs, cut off their supply-chain, and then wait for the enemy tanks to run out of ammunition or oil and starve them to death.

Although Advance Wars mostly turned into a game of turtling with cheap mechanized infantry (One of the best units for a given price). But the logistics was at least theoretically possible.


I know "war logistics" games exist, but they certainly aren't mainstream. Europa Universalis and "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" are famously "Excel Spreadsheet games", I've never played them but maybe they are more into logistics than other games.



The supply system for Europa Universalis (which is part of what I referred to as "other Paradox titles") is actually very barebone, consisting almost entirely of "you can only keep a certain number of troops in a province without attrition", where the number of troops depends on terrain, friendly/enemy territory, etc. Hearts of Iron has actual supply chain management.

As for Civilization, I've always treated it as a battle chess game rather than an actual strategy simulation game.

That's actually pretty accurate for the era EU simulates though. Nobody could supply an army of any size by any method other than foraging, aka buying all the food and forage in the area around the army.

As you know, the maximum throughput of any connection is the buffer size divided by the round-trip time. If you're using horse-drawn carts to move food and forage, the buffer size will be quite small; carts don't hold very much and there aren't a lot of them. Horse-drawn carts are slow, so the round-trip time will also be quite long. A number of generals had the idea of supplying the army this way, but nobody could do it further than a few dozen miles because the round-trip times get so high. Before WW1 everyone figured that trains had solved the problem; you would just load your supplies up on big fast trains and send them right to the front. Unfortunately, armies really love blowing up the enemy's trains and railways, so the railheads were never as close to the front as anyone liked and they were always having to be rebuilt. There weren't enough motorized vehicles in the world to deliver all that tonnage more than 100 miles, so the fronts in WW1 were very stagnant. In WW2 there were tens of millions of trucks of all sizes, and the Germans estimated they could deliver sufficient supplies to the army as far as 400 miles from the railheads. Unfortunately, it's over a thousand miles from eastern Poland to Moscow, so that didn't go so well. Also, it's over a thousand miles from Tripoli to the Suez canal, so they didn't have much luck in that theater either.

If you want to read more on the subject, I recommend "Supplying War: Logistics From Wallenstein To Patton", by Martin Van Creveld. Great book.

Ahem. The "Best supply chain simulator game" of all time award goes to The Campaign for North Africa (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/4815/campaign-north-afri...). And I'm not just saying that because of the logistical effort required to move and set up the game itself.

Dream to play it someday

Hearts of Iron (3 and to a lesser extent 2) are probably the biggest example of a warfare game with a focus on logistics. 3 especially got a reputation for being difficult and unfun, even among many fans of Paradox's other games, though obviously there are more contributors than just a logistics focus.

I can recommend the Wargame-Series (European Escalation, AirLand Battle and esp. Red Dragon). Sure, your logistics begin at the Map border, but you have to make do with the units given in the campaign, so losses are permanent. And you have to keep your units supplied and fuelled throughout the real-time battles. Quite a hassle.

I felt that Supreme Commander 1 had some of this, since maps were big enough that you'd have supplies lines, just moving units towards the front lines instead of ressources. If I'm remembering right, you could even set transport craft on a repeat route to ferry your units across the battlefield. Of course, once you had built new factories closer to the front line, the logistic issues tend to disappear a little.

Stonkers, a 1983 ZX Spectrum RTS game had already had supplies.

it arguably moved the other way (to infrastructure not being a part of the game at all), as MOBAs have taken over RTS

That could be quite fun! Especially since you could try to sabotage or destroy enemy supply lines.

Whether I agree or disagree with them, I find this kind of analyses of fictional battles very fun to read. And this particular blog seems to be full of fascinating articles (I recommend the one about how a "medieval/fantasy" battlefield ought too look like after a battle -- spoiler: most depictions are inspired by the aftermath of WWI battles; battlefields after medieval battles would look pretty much unspoiled).

A few years back there was a humorous review of the Battle of Hoth from "Empire Strikes Back" that was pretty cool: https://www.wired.com/2013/02/battle-of-hoth

Be sure to check the ones about Paganism/Polytheism! The mind-blowing thing about paganism is that unlike the 3 major religions of today, it didn't start with a holy book (orthodoxy), but with rituals. It's like a caricature of scientific method. We did so and so, and the harvest was good. Therefore, the ritual works. There is little point in learning who exactly the gods are or what they think. The important thing is not offending any of them, knowing which is responsible for what, and making deals with them. As long as the (sacrificial) ritual seemed to work, it would be repeated with the slightest detail. If it didn't, they would experiment. They were very open to change in practice, because with no word of god to rely on they knew they could only take imperfect glimpses into nature of gods.

Ann Leckie's fantasy novel The Raven Tower is set in a world where such pagan gods are real, and dives right into a description of how human tribes will spend generations training them to respond favorably.

Jut in case anyone doesn't do the date-math/scroll down past the comments, all 5 of the following blog posts are finished and linked to half way through the comments (ctrl+f: pingback).

Highlight of part three for a logistocs geek like myself: Romans and Greeks had standardized ammunition, not just rocks that happened to lay around. That's how you build empires! And roads and aqueducts, of course...

EDIT: While the siege of Helm's Deep was perfectly done in the film, the Siege of Minas Tirith feels more like Holywood, very well done Hollywood but the difference between the two is deffinitely there.

It seems the author also missed the fact orcs are perfectly alright with cannibalism, which further alleviates the supply problem, perhaps even to the point of not requiring the supplies at all (a few thousand orcs eaten along the way wont make much difference). I doubt this has much precedent in history.

It does remind slightly me of Amundsen's approach on his south pole expedition of killing dogs and feeding them to the men and the other dogs.

Lord Curzon was rather rude to him about it.

But to be blunt: who was Lord Curzon?

Some British official. Probably best known as a namesake for the current eastern border of Poland (known as Curzon's line), of which he wasn't an architect or proponent.

In popular culture "Curzon" is probably most familiar to StarTrek:DS9 fans as Curzon Dax, the predecessor of the Jadzia Dax. https://memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Curzon_Dax

(The character - a diplomat - was very clearly inspired by Lord Curzon.)

The British ideal of the noble defeat being better than the pragmatic victory is rather strange.

Almost any custom which seems strange when you take one encounter turns out to be perfectly reasonable when you take it in a context of repeated encounters with the same vis-a-vis. Having reputation for being noble, even in defeat, can have unique advantages.

Both Scott and Gordon died at arguably the peak of British global power. Such a power can afford to venerate losers.

In a previous time, when Britain's place in the world stage was not as assured, it could be less lenient to them:


Pragmatic victory is for the upper classes.

I think orcs eating orcs only happens in the movies. In the books orcs don’t do that. What he missed is orcs eating human flesh

Interesting, although the books indeed don't mention it I don't think it's entirely out of the question.

from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orc_(Middle-earth)

> Tolkien indicates that Orcs are "always hungry".[24] Orcs eat all manner of flesh, including men and horses, and there are frequent hints of cannibalism among Orcs. Grishnákh, leader of the Mordor Orcs, accuses Saruman's Uruks of eating Orc-flesh, which they angrily deny.[22] In Cirith Ungol, Gorbag suggests that Frodo (recently poisoned by Shelob) should "go in the pot"; Shagrat indicates that Gorbag could be "for the pot" for making such a suggestion.[25] Shagrat threatens to eat a disobedient orc, and after killing Gorbag he licks his blood from the blade.[26]

The interesting part is Uruks "angrily denying" eating ork flesh which might mean it was an insult to suggest they do. Furthermore, https://middle-earth.xenite.org/what-do-orcs-eat says the books give some descriptions of orcish cooking.

However, based on the overall attitude of orcs, I believe they would kill and eat each other to survive. But I think I was wrong to suggest that would be an acceptable solution to problem of long-term military supply logistics.

> Grishnákh, leader of the Mordor Orcs, accuses Saruman's Uruks of eating Orc-flesh, which they angrily deny.

As you note, this is good evidence that cannibalism is not practiced by the orcs.

> In Cirith Ungol, Gorbag suggests that Frodo (recently poisoned by Shelob) should "go in the pot"; Shagrat indicates that Gorbag could be "for the pot" for making such a suggestion.

This isn't good evidence; the insult is suggested by the context.

> Shagrat threatens to eat a disobedient orc

Without some sort of context, this is good evidence that cannibalism is practiced.

> and after killing Gorbag he licks his blood from the blade.

But this isn't; blood licking is not unknown among humans either. (To be fair, neither is cannibalism, but they read pretty differently.)

>> Grishnákh, leader of the Mordor Orcs, accuses Saruman's Uruks of eating Orc-flesh, which they angrily deny.

> As you note, this is good evidence that cannibalism is not practiced by the orcs.

Institutionalized cannibalism is characterized by strict taboos about who can eat whom, when, and how. It would make sense for an insult between two related cannibalistic societies to be based on either "you fail to observe the taboos we both recognize" (a heavy put-down) or "you don't recognize our taboos / you have specifically disrespected us in the way you violated a shared taboo" (insults with deep roots; a likely casus belli). In either case, angry denial seems like an orcish way to counter the insult without escalating a potentially volatile situation. So while cannibalism-related insult is consistent with societies in which cannibalism is never acceptable, among societies where the practice is formalized absence of such insults might have been more surprising.

If the accusation is just "eating orc-flesh", the only cannibalistic taboo that would be violated by that unqualified act would be eating those who aren't members of your group.

A practice of eating your own kind -- but not other people -- would be consistent with everything mentioned above, but would be incredibly bizarre for humans. We are much more likely to eat other groups while never eating our own.

Orcs could be weird that way though. It's not hard to lay a basic conceptual foundation for eating your own kind and prohibiting other groups from eating your own kind.

> If the accusation is just "eating orc-flesh", the only cannibalistic taboo that would be violated by that unqualified act would be eating those who aren't members of your group.

No. For example, it may be unacceptable if the groups aren't at war.

> A practice of eating your own kind -- but not other people -- would be consistent with everything mentioned above, but would be incredibly bizarre for humans. We are much more likely to eat other groups while never eating our own.

Then humans are incredibly bizarre. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endocannibalism

Nothing in the Endocannibalism page suggests that any mentioned group ate their own members to the exclusion of eating members of other groups. That topic isn't discussed at all anywhere on the page.

The most prominently mentioned example, though -- New Zealand -- was definitely not exclusive endocannibalism.

The exocannibalism page confirms that the Wari' also practiced exocannibalism.

The article is obviously very basic; I just linked it as a starting place for your research. This is not really the kind of thing where arguments from first principles are productive.

The exocannibalism page that you found does say that the Wari are the only known example of both types of ritual cannibalism, which suggests that it's more of an exception than the rule.

Orcs were corrupted/mutated elves and uruk-hai were corrupted/mutated humans iirc but could be mistaken It wouldn't necessarily be cannibilism then.

That's a popular and oft-repeated conception, but not precisely canon. Tolkien was never able to definitively pin down the origin and nature of his orcs to his own satisfaction, and never reached any final decision, afaik.

> Tolkien was never able to definitively pin down the origin and nature of his orcs to his own satisfaction

I think I heard it was because of the Christian roots of his LotR writings: are orcs fully evil and impossible to redeem (which would go against Christian belief on salvation and some of the themes of the LotR) or could they be redeemed, which would be against how they are portrayed in the books.

When the Uruk-hai bragged to the Mordor orcs that they were given man-flesh to eat, the Mordor orcs replied that it was really orc-flesh, and the Uruk-hai were offended. So, while it may have happened somewhere, at least both Mordor and Uruk-hai orcs considered the suggestion offensive.

> I doubt this has much precedent in history. //

On the contrary I'd imagine there was a deal of precedent for it, but probably not well recorded.

I've the vaguest recollection of inferences that crusaders in a North African situation resorted to cannibalism -- I'll have to look for the source on that.

and that's how so many orcs were able to march all at once, they are eating as they march.

Operations is the level of analysis between tactics (how do I fight when I get there?) and strategy (why am I fighting at all?).

The USMC calls that "campaigning". See MCDP 1-2 [1]. Campaigning is about which battles to fight and where. Strategy includes economic and diplomatic issues, but campaigning is purely military.

Military history can be divided into two parts - before machine guns, and after machine guns. Before machine guns, bunching up was good tactics. After machine guns, it was terrible tactics. Too much of WWI was about learning that the hard way.

[1] https://www.marines.mil/Portals/1/Publications/MCDP%201-2%20...

> Military history can be divided into two parts - before machine guns, and after machine guns. Before machine guns, bunching up was good tactics. After machine guns, it was terrible tactics. Too much of WWI was about learning that the hard way.

Terribly good point! I want to refute you, but I'm not really coming up with much. Automatic rifles are just devastating. How did you come to this conclusion?

> but I'm not really coming up with much.

War elephants are a slight exception - the best tactic against them seems to have been spreading out and killing the driver with arrows or javalins - but it's less that bunching up was bad tactics and more that it wasn't enough; phalanxes could repel elephants fairly well, they just weren't good at actually taking them out of the fight.

The posts on sparta are a joy to read as well


They are how I discovered the blog. Eye-opening.

Yes, it was a heck of a good dive! The conclusion, extremely briefly, is that Sparta is to be learned from, not emulated. The gist of Sparta is less like a well balanced, yet brutal, place, and more like an extreme version of the Lord's Resistance Army of central Africa, only with more rape and child abuse. If they were around today, we'd 'liberate' them in a heartbeat.

"Ideally, the solution to this problem is to split the army up. By moving in multiple columns and converging on the battlespace, you split one impossibly long column of troops into several more manageable ones. ... The larger problem is terrain – we’ve seen Ithilien in this film and the previous one: it is heavily forested, with few roads. What roads exist are overgrown and difficult to use. Worse yet, the primary route through the area is not an east-west road, but the North-South route up from Near Harad to the Black Gate. The infrastructure here to split the army effectively simply doesn’t exist."

Er, hatetobeapedanticfanboi, but...

There is a road north-south through Ithilien, and also a road east-west from Minas Morgul to Osgiliath. Where they cross was marked by the headless statue of the king. Frodo and Sam couldn't use the north-south road because of the large number of troops moving on it, including those moving up from the south to attack Minas Tirith.

"BOOK NOTE: In the film, Jackson has split the host of Mordor into three groups (the fleet, the Haradrim and the Orcs) each of which moves and arrives as a single unit. As discussed above, this is insufficient to resolve the overwhelming logistics problems of such large armies. However, the books largely resolve this issue."

Sigh. Pedanticfanboimode wasted.

"Naval supply, by riverboat or by ship, is far more efficient than overland supply (moving supplies by water is roughly twenty times more efficient than moving the same supplies by land in the pre-modern era)."

I want the reference for that.

From part II:

"As Clausewitz says (drink!), “Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is hard.”"

Yeah. A Clausewitz drinking game.

[Edit] "Book Note: In the books, Denethor is nowhere near this stupid (this will be a theme)."

I'm glad somebody else saw this. Jackson really screwed up the plot arcs of the humans in the movies.

>I want the reference for that.

Another post [0] says that "The usual estimates for transit costs derive from Diocletian’s Price Edict, a late Roman law setting standard prices for things, including transport."

[0] https://acoup.blog/2019/07/19/the-lonely-city-part-ii-real-c...

Good quote:

> One of the real lessons the study of the past has to teach us is – to quote L. P. Hartley, “the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” What I mean by that is that so much of how we assume all societies work and all people think is just how our society works and we think. Properly done, the study of the past can disabuse us of this silly notion and show us that smart people in different times and different places did things all sorts of different ways. But this lesson is ruined if we construct caricatures of the past wherein people living long ago were just big stupid brutes with big stupid weapons.

just finished the first post. All I can say is well written and to the point! Logistics is totally underrepresented in history (infrastructure and the like) and especially military history. When it comes to the annoying "relaibility" discussions around WW2 tanks on Youtube I just wished some would explain the basic principle of RAMST, Reliability-Availability-maintainability-Supportability-Testability. Yet, nobody seems to get it. Military historians remain historians, and RAMST is more of an engineering discipline and fanboys don't want to. And I guess modern day professionals in that field are just to busy with modern day systems to actually worry about the old stuff. I know that I were during my short stint in that field.

Have you watched many of Nicholas Moran (The_Chiftain)'s videos?

He likes to comment on the ergonomics of operating and maintaining tanks. But he also discusses why the USA mainly build medium tanks during ww2, and how and why they were more maintainable than their european contemporaries. (An ocean away from their factories, they had to be)

Sure know his videos! It really shows that he has some operational experience. Something others covering the same subject don't.

What I am missing is an detailed view on that aspect from true, modern day experts. But for that you would need more than one person to cover it in a meaningful way.

I can't recommend enough this book which retells the story from the position of Mordor. It made me always remember how genocide, politics and bootlicking can be turned into heroic stories by victors' propaganda.


I'm reminded of Mercedes Lackey's magically dwindling army in the Storm trilogy; where millions of invading soldiers turn into tens of thousands without much casualties. Also, I guess I've gained a bit of appreciation for WWI English officer training; apparently it was good enough to make Tolkien invent proper campaigns.

Heck, I'd like to see someone compare 14 day campaigns from WWI that Tolkien could have known about and see which one he reproduced in his books.

Next up: How Gondor won despite a complete lack of air support (see: winged wraiths) and superior enemy armor (see: Mumakil).

They had ghost reinforcements that executed a textbook flank[1].

1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flanking_maneuver

In books, the ghost army was used to rout enemy at south and gather (now free to leave the region) soldiers at that region and transport them with (captured) enemy ships to the battlefield.

The flanking maneuver is done, but with actual humans, not with ghosts.

Actually the author also has a 3 part article about war elephants https://acoup.blog/2019/07/26/collections-war-elephants-part...

He is of the opinion that elephants were okay (not great) on battlefield, but awful in terms of logistics, supply usage and breeding. A horse reaches adulthood in 4 years. An elephant needs 15, and pregnancy lasts over 3 years. There are no known examples of breeding elephants. Supply-wise, you could have 1000 cavalrymen or 54 elephants. He says the main reason India widely used elephants - aside from proximity - was to show off status.

Also, don't make fun of J.R.R. Tolkien - he fought in trenches of WW1, on top of strong familiarity with medieval warfare because of all his reading.

Tolkien wrote a lovely letter to a fan about Sam and the soldiers he served alongside on the Western Front:

"My ‘Samwise’ is indeed (as you note) largely a reflexion of the English soldier—grafted on the village-boys of early days, the memory of the privates and my batmen that I knew in the 1914 War, and recognized as so far superior to myself."


Flying wraiths lack firepower, so they provide no real air support. Just fast transportation/communication.

They lacked physical firepower, but they had metaphysical/magical firepower. I imagine they purposefully filled gondorian soldier's mind with dread and misery using their powers (think fighter planes with capabilities of high end electronic and cyber warfare capabilities instead of traditional weapons)

If not for Gandalf using his own metaphysical powers to give hope to the soldiers, I imagine the gondorians would have become inactive with shock due to terror and dread in the airwaves.

Metaphysical chemical weapons.

Strafing runs in WW2 were almost completely ineffective but all infantry were reporting huge morale loss when they were happening.

Strafing was quite effective against vehicles, trains, landed aircraft etc. But yes against infantry it didn't make much sense, something about going too fast in shaky airplane trying to hit tiny ants running randomly left and right because they noticed the plane well before plane noticed them

saiya-jin notes that this might be true of attacks on infantry but on vehicles and trains the attacks were very very effective. In particular the German army was reduced to moving by night only in Normandy and the railroads were heavily targeted. Things came to a head in the battle of The Falaise Pocket with artillery and the airforces working together and the descriptions of the aftermath are truely horrific.

I just rewatched the battle scene from the movie, and the wraiths took out a few trebuchets and a decent number of soldiers on the wall. They weren't effective against soldiers under any sort of cover, but picking up and dropping soldiers on the city would be a good psychological warfare technique. Gandalf is seen riding around the city telling soldiers to return to their posts.

And the communication and intelligence that flying wraiths would allow is no small asset. Part of the advantage of a walled city is a view of the enemy approach while hiding your own formation. Good areal surveillance eliminates that advantage for the defending side.

C2 Witch King: << Gothmog, I'm detecting a large movement 5 miles south of your position. They're not friendlies. >>

They are friendlies: the Witch King thinks the ghosts are reinforcements because they are flying Mordor flags. When they disembark the ruse is revealed too late.

The film does show them mowing down soldiers with their claws and inspiring terror in others: https://youtu.be/HX4KKkSKZAY?t=197

I seem to recall that one of the names for Angmar was "The Captain of Despair" - literally a terror weapon.

Obligatory pedantry: "Angmar" was the name of the northern realm which the Lord of the Nazgul once ruled as the "Witch-King of Angmar". We don't know what his original name was, although I believe there's a reference to him being a Lord of Numenor somewhere. Tor.com recently had a nice overview of him: https://www.tor.com/2019/10/31/exploring-the-people-of-middl...

The only canonically named Ringwraith was Khamul, the Witch-king's number two. (Roleplaying game company Iron Crown Enterprises once put out some nice but totally unofficial names for all the Nazgul.)

... And extremely effective morale suppression of their foes, which is an excellent force multiplier for the armies of Mordor

There's a lot of military SF (and, I guess, fantasy that I've never read as much of) that wants to mostly restrict the action to ground forces. The result is that they have to either just ignore the decisive power of air support or just come up with hand-wavy explanations for why air powerisn't effective in the hypothetical scenario.

The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross includes (spoiler) an assault on the city of Leeds in the UK by a combined arms Elven battle group. The elves have Battle-tested air-land integration doctrine that sees them using their dragons in a close air support role. The elves use other magical means for ISR of the deep battle. Stross’ elves are somewhat more waffen-SS than Tolkien’s

This results in a dragon vs. RAF Tornado dogfight. He got an ex-RAF chap to consult on the technical detail too.

I seem to recall it was a pair of Eurofighter Typhoons rather than Tornados?

Oh dear, now I'll have to read it all again just to check.

Edit: Superb book, horrifying and laugh out loud funny (although not in the same places).

Edit2: BBC/HBO please do a version of the Laundry Files once you are finished with HDM!

I think Charlie has said that they have been optioned - and Felicia Day just has to be cast as Cassie "yes yes"

Sounds a bit like things rendering Enterprise's transporters inoperative just when beaming up the away-team would have been the easiest solution.

Oh, and to make it less obvious, you better announce a few minutes earlier that a plasma storm is forming in the upper atmosphere.

One piece that never works, to the point that Starfleet should really ask themselves who designed it so badly - warp core ejection system. There's lots of episodes where their main reactor is about to explode, and the emergency safeguard designed to save them from exactly that problem suddenly malfunctions for one reason or other.

Or my favorite order never heard on the bridge of Enterprise "nuke it from orbit, it's the only way to be sure". Fine, often it would go against the ethos of what they are trying to do. But sometimes, they could have beamed home the away team and proceeded to rain fiery death from above with photon torpedoes or whatever.

They have phasers with enough power to boil the oceans of a planet, and torpedoes that can travel faster than light. Yet every conflict takes place at extremely close proximity, often on the same plane, as if they were ships in the age of sail.

They have force fields with a critical flaw (harmonic resonance means any energy weapon using the same frequency as the shields can just shoot right through them) but whenever this is even mentioned, the shields have to be re-adjusted manually.

Unauthorized people can appear on the ship, and crew can vanish from the ship, and the computer either doesn't notice, or does and never alerts anyone or activates any sort of countermeasures. The first officer can be sucked into a pocket universe and have his organs rearranged by non-Euclidean bug monsters and no one will ever know unless they happen to ask the computer where Riker is at the moment.

It's been established that transporter buffers can be used to "back up" a person, even long term (in the TNG episode "Relics," Scotty is discovered having stored himself in a transporter buffer for decades with no ill effect.)

Replicators can't do latinum and living tissue, but they work by literally converting energy into matter and assembling it into something atom by atom. At that resolution, there's no difference between anything and anything else, so there's no reason why replicators shouldn't be able to replicate anything.

The former two items, along with the holodeck (which can create sentient life on request, BTW) should guarantee that no Federation citizen ever truly ages or dies, or even ever has to exist in a physical body. The Federation should be a post-human, post-singularity society. Yet for "plot reasons," none of these glitches (like the transporters being able to clone people simply by refracting the transporter beam) are ever harnessed for their real potential.

Larry Niven once wrote, in either an intro or separate essay, about the problems associated with building universes where you introduce extremely powerful technologies. As time goes on, it gets harder and harder to write around why $TECH can't be used to solve almost arbitrary problem.

He's got another about why sci-fi mysteries are hard, too.

Star Trek: TNG made a teenage me wonder why starships encountering each other always appeared to have matched their orientations.

Was there some kind of prearranged signal? A diplomatic code adhered to even by enemies? Just a general preference on all sides concerned preventing headaches and vague unheimlich feelings of discomfort? So many questions…

If I was harassing the federation I would keep my ship at an awkward angle relative to theirs at all times just to keep them on edge.

I was totally fine with the other plot holes though.

Don't think it was necessarily a plot hole, albeit after the fact. Plenty of sci fi authors have taken similar approaches throughout the years. The idea is that in a spiral galaxy the natural tendency would be to stick with the orientation that matched the galactic plane along the right-handed spin (to determine up vs down) and some authors have even extended naval directional signals into space. This is from The Lost Fleet:

"Within a solar system, directional references were always made to the world outside a ship so other ships could understand them. Anything above the plane of the system was up, anything below it down. The direction toward the sun was right, or starboard, (or even 'starward' as some urged), while the direction away from the sun was left, or port."

"The direction toward the sun was right, or starboard, (or even 'starward' as some urged), while the direction away from the sun was left, or port.""

Ehh. Ahh. "Port" and "starboard" should be relative to the bow/stern axis of the ship. Otherwise you'll have a hard time finding the head.

In the future we won't need a head, because we'll have matter teleportation.

That just needs a few lines of plot glue to fix that problem! Like, "Warp drives need to be oriented parallel to the ecliptic plane of surrounding celestial bodies to best calculate navigation and maximize their space bending effect. Naturally, ships keep this orientation at all times just in case."

I remember thinking the same thing. They did break the matching orientations in the final episode with the attack from below, which was fun:


Now I understand why I felt that scene was so brutal!

Cue the great SF writer E.E. 'Doc' Smith of Lensman fame, who went into detail on the challenges of just getting two spaceships to match velocities closely enough to allow docking at transfer of passengers and cargo. (He did handwave the speed of light away, though.)

Or why all the ships have a front and a back. This why I like the Borg ships.

I've always been a bit disappointed in the weapons available far into the future. I tried watching one series and the opening scene involved good guys shooting at bad guys and hiding behind boulders and such. It just looked so much like the conflict sequence in High Noon. I couldn't watch further. And they still suffered from the "good guy bullets" vs. "bad guy bullets" phenomenon. A good guy can run unscathed (or with superficial wounds, at worst) through a hail of "bad guy bullets." Then they turn and fire three "good guy bullets" and five bad guys drop. Even my current favorite "The Expanse" has a lot of human aimed weapons. I expect that in the future that any weapons that fire a projectile would have an aiming system that would put the projectile dead on the target unless the target can take evasive action once a ballistic projectile is in flight. But really, I'd expect projectiles to be replaced by directed energy weapons by then. Maybe Star Trek gets that right with Phasors. Do Phasors ever miss? (Check that - should be Phasers. Phasors are weapons used by college math and physics professors.)

Besides The Expanse, which gets a lot of the technical implications on space battle right, there are some other examples. One that comes to mind would be Aerotech, the aerospace rule set from Classic battletech. hard to play as a table top, but in space it works with vectors, thrust and accelaration. And orientation of craft in space. You can even realative speed at the beginning of a scenarion in different vectors. As I said, hard to keep track off but quite realistic.

Another, non-game example of where weapons tech can take you, is Perry Rhoadan. german science fiction started in the 60s. Perry Rhoadan becomes immortal and leads humanity, and for periods the whole galaxy, for thousands of years. There you see actual technological progress, often stolen from other races. It leads to a point where a deus ex was used by authors to reign it back in (hyperspace resistance increased rendering everything too advanced useless). Point is, at the height of it, single shot starship weapons had aroud 2,000 GT TNT equivalent of energy, ships carried a lot of them which had and could be aimed at almost light speed to single point (in the physical sense as they had multilayered shields that could only be penetrated by point-fire, every "point" of the shiled had the same strength). i only wondered how ground combat would look like, as the battle armor and robots carried the same tech. I would assume a city would be reduced to sub-atomar dust within the first 10 minutes of an engangement or so.

but from a technical point of view it made sense, same for power generation and computers (even if computers also got the actual processing power development wrong). Nice thing, they used real world ISO units for the most part, not like start trek which just throwns around units to sound scientific.

Some ship examples: Accelaration: up to 980 km/sec^2, overlight factor up to 60 million, energy directly from hyperspace. So you can see why that, from an authors perspective, had to be rained in. when travel to the next couple of galaxies can be done in a private yacht, things get a little bit to crazy.

EDIT: Typos, a lot... Sorry for that!

> Do Phasors ever miss?

They miss, and they miss a lot. Firefights in Star Trek look mostly like firefights everywhere else - beams and bolts flying through the air, and every now and then someone gets hit.

One interesting aspect is that TNG-era phasers used by protagonists don't even look like practical weapons. I read somewhere that this was intentional design decision - Starfleet was supposed to be about peace and exploration, so they didn't want the protagonists carrying something recognizable as a gun. Star Trek back-tracked a bit from that later on, with introduction of phaser rifles that look not unlike something you could really see on a battlefield of the future. But back to the TNG phasers - because they're shaped more like a flat flashlight than a gun, they really must be tough to aim. I mean, try taking a laser pointer and hitting something a couple meters away from you with the first click of the button. It's hard. In my headcanon, phasers must run some sophisticated auto-targeting systems - otherwise, the feats of accuracy seen on the screen would be impossible.

Hand-held Phasers were also so small to show the power of the technology of the 24th century. Gene Roddenberry insisted indeed that they should not look like a pistol.

Source: Star Trek Design, by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens

I have always explained it away in my head that the hand held phasers have some kind of feedback loop you learn while practicing. I.e. they have some kind of guiding or balancing mechanism, but it's not automatic, which is why you have all these training sessions on holodeck with Riker or whomever.

By the way, this is also what I love about a lot of Star Trek tech. Humans are mostly in the loop. (I am sure it's just a product of the times it was created, but I love it.) Reports are brought on PADDs walking to the captain, not emailing the captain. The computer is explicitly instructed to scan for people, it's not keeping tabs of everyone at all times. If you lose your badge, your are generally not tracked anymore. (No implants.) The badge is not always in recording or transmission mode. Sickbay does not have CCTV system always on. And so one. It seems like a culture which long ago decided on a trade-off between surveillance and privacy, and it's not the same we choosing right now.

But if I keep thinking in-universe style, the Star Trek / Federation culture on surveillance could have come from some hard won failures earlier on.

In a more realistic space battle scenario weapons would have to be able to miss. You would pick your engagement range based on it. It's kind of like sword fighting in that sense: you want to be close to the enemy, but far away enough that you can react to their attacks. The only reason that it wouldn't work this way would be if you had some incredible shields/armor/defensive measure of some kind that would protect you.

The future would likely include lasers as some kind of a weapon, which indicates to me that engagement ranges would be so massive that even light will have a significant amount of travel time.

The expanse is very Low tech in SF terms, certainly when building top end Traveller forces you tend to have individual point defence built into the armour.

Ok at that point the avionics fit for a fire team would buy a small starship.

If I remember correctly, in Banks "Against a Dark Background", space battles must follow strict rules including no-AI assistance. But there are cheaters.

"It's been established that transporter buffers can be used to "back up" a person, even long term (in the TNG episode "Relics," Scotty is discovered having stored himself in a transporter buffer for decades with no ill effect.)"

Well, teck-nik-ally,...

Didn't another officer enter the transporter with Scott but not survive the process?

>Didn't another officer enter the transporter with Scott but not survive the process?

I don't remember, but it's still feasible in-universe. Transporter accidents happen anyway.

Artificial gravity & anti-gravity.

Inertial dampeners that work well enough to prevent everyone being turned to jelly by accelerations but leak enough to toss people around the bridge.

Disintegration rays that somehow know to stop disintegration at the soles of boots. The floor never gets disintegrated.

Time travel.

For better or worse, Star Trek is teleplay.

Don't forget that they do not have auto-aiming for their phasers and despite their advanced photonic torpedos, these are usually not homing either. (It might be that the Defiant's phasers, which were shooting these bolts instead of the continuous beams, were auto-aimed)

(Don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved Star Trek. TNG and DS9 in particular).

In my headcanon, the somewhat low accuracy of weaponry in Star Trek even at close range is explained by ridiculous amounts of trek-tech electronic warfare going on. Every ship emits enough jamming, sensor ghosts, fake warp fields, whatnot, to keep enemies' computers busy trying to make sense of it. At long range you're guaranteed to not hit anything, so ships have to fight pretty close - which explains the ranges we see on-screen.

Their torpedoes don't even have to be "homing." It should be possible for them to have onboard AIs smart enough to allow them to develop complex strategies, use swarming tactics, evasion, etc.

Would it be ethical in trek to build an AI whose sole purpose was to commit suicide?

John Carpenter's Dark Star covers this a little, but mainly for laughs. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Star_(film)

Given the strength of Trek weaponry, one photon would do. I remember reading somewhere that a standard photon torpedo carried 1.5 kg of antimatter on board, which is yield-equivalent to a Tsar bomba (almost 60 megaton). However, phasers could have been easily used for close air support, even from orbit - AFAIR Enterprise-D used them once as surgical tools for geoengineering.

Most episodes seem to script around the need for air support, but I remember one case where it was at least acknowledged on-screen - one DS9 episode had a ground assault at an enemy position to destroy a under-repair gateway in it, and it was said early on that the surrounding building was strong enough that a torpedo strike from orbit would not necessarily destroy the target.


My personal favorite case of missed opportunity is the use of transporters to beam armed torpedoes directly onto enemy ships. It was used once in a Voyager episode. It's an obvious, but sadly plot-killing tactic, that hasn't been sufficiently hand-waved away in the lore, so one has to wonder why nobody uses it.

The StarGate series actually took that option seriously (the series was much smarter when it came to combat). In it, to the dismay of the species that provided humans with transporters, human ships often beamed nuclear warheads onto unsuspecting enemy vessels, achieving seemingly impossible victories.

"My personal favorite case of missed opportunity is the use of transporters to beam armed torpedoes directly onto enemy ships. It was used once in a Voyager episode. It's an obvious, but sadly plot-killing tactic, that hasn't been sufficiently hand-waved away in the lore, so one has to wonder why nobody uses it."


Transporters cannot penetrate shield, usually either incoming or outgoing. Usually.

> Transporters cannot penetrate shield, usually either incoming or outgoing. Usually.

Except when they can, due to frequency matching, "technology generation" mismatch between shields and transporters, and countless of other one-off workarounds that happened. Think of every episode in which the Enterprise/Defiant/Voyager was boarded while in combat.

But even when considering the regular case of shields blocking incoming and outgoing transport, there's plenty of opportunities to use transporters offensively. They could be used as surprise first strike weapon to initiate hostilities by immediately taking enemy ship out. They could be used to finish off an enemy in a one-to-one fight. They could be used in coordinated fashion in fleet battles, where whenever an enemy ship loses shields, one ship drops their own shields and transports some photons over while other ships cover the vulnerable friend from immediate fire. Etc.

All in all, there are plenty of opportunities for offensive transporter use which were never explored in the series.

Akshually... it depends on the writer, series and episode.

The shields have the fatal flaw that anything operating at the same frequency can go right through them, including a transporter beam. That's come up as a plot point more than once.

In the good old days, of usenet, James D. Nicoll had a signature that read: "Frankly, Captain, I feel interstellar diplomacy is out of our depth." "Ah, hence the nuclear weapons."

Fictional battles that are worth to be described in detail might often directly involve the main characters or influential persons and therefore it might be out of question to bombard the battlefield and kill everyone. (wellll... at least as long as you are not G.R.R. Martin and turn everyone and their direwolve into a main character or do not care if a main character dies. When killing main characters, it certainly helps if you have enough of them which brings us back to the first point).

If you're not familiar with Corey Olsen (https://tolkienprofessor.com/), one of his frequent points is that, while the First Age elves had some air support in the form of Manwë's eagles, Morgoth didn't until he invented winged dragons shortly before the final battle.

(Balrogs don't fly.)

> (Balrogs don't fly.)

Them's thar's fightin' words. :)

I don't have a copy of the old Usenet FAQ handy, but here's a tiny sample of the debate for any curious readers:

http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Balrogs/Wings http://www.thetolkienwiki.org/wiki.cgi?FAQ/Do__Balrogs__have...

Well not at the siege of Minas Tirith, but they did get saved by air cav at the battle after that (giant Eagles).

Orc supply logistics is eased somewhat by the ability of the Orc armies to eat the defeated and if required, each other. In the latter case the strong orcs eat the weak, preserving the elite and veteran parts of the army. There is a strong hierarchy within the various Orc subtypes, and an argument could be made that the Orc army marches as its own supply.

I don't think the book mentions any green, fertile farmland in Mordor, nor do the movies show any.

So even if the Orc-eats-Orc or Orc-eats-Man "supply" might work for a short campaign, the biomass must come from somewhere, initially.

In the chapter The Land of Shadow in The Return of the King the narrator says:

"Neither he nor Frodo knew anything of the great slave-worked fields away south in this wide realm, beyond the fumes of the Mountain by the dark sad waters of Lake Núrnen; nor of the great roads that ran away east and south to tributary lands, from which the soldiers of the Tower brought long waggon-trains of goods and booty and fresh slaves. Here in the northward regions were the mines and forges, and the musterings of long-planned war; and here the Dark Power, moving its armies like pieces on the board was gathering them together."

Book explicitly mentions slave farms in the East.

But yes, cannibalism and human forage is not sustainable, but might stretch a 10 day supply to 15.

I think it's great slave farms in Southern Mordor, around the inland sea of Nurnen. http://www.glyphweb.com/arda/n/nurn.php

(There may also have been farms in the East that I'm not remembering. The East was definitely under Sauron's thumb, although perhaps not so firmly as he would have liked.)

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